When the 113th Congress convenes in January, U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., could be its only black Republican, yet another sign of that party’s failure to expand its appeal among minority voters.
Scott and Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., were elected in 2010 and became Congress’ first black Republicans since former Oklahoma football star and Rep. J.C. Watts retired in 2003.
West appeared to lose a close re-election fight, but is contesting the results.
The party also had hoped that Mia Love, a black woman now serving as mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, would win her congressional race, but she trails her Democratic opponent by 2,600 votes. News reports said she is holding out hope because of about 64,000 absentee and mail-in ballots to be counted Tuesday.
“The fog is still burning off outside,” Scott said of the Nov. 6 results, “but there seems to be a clear and present danger that I will be the only one left.”
If that’s the case, Scott said he expects to face more scrutiny as Congress’ sole black Republican, “but in the end, my goal has always been to represent everybody and not just somebody specifically.”
Scott said he thinks voters said two compelling but conflicting things. “In my opinion, they did not vote for more government,” he said. “They did vote for someone who they believed could feel their pain. It underscores the old lesson — people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
“I believe we were right on the issues, most consistently right,” but he added, “perhaps we were wrong on the level of passion that could be sensed in connecting with voters.”
Asked what his role might be, Scott said, “I didn’t work much with the RNC (Republican National Committee). I didn’t get a call from the RNC this year, so I’m not sure what the Republicans’ strategy will be from the national perspective.” Scott said what will be important is for Republicans to connect with voters “of all backgrounds.”
Glenn McCall, South Carolina’s first black Republican National Committee member, said he is proud of Scott, and Scott’s presence will encourage others.
But McCall said it doesn’t fall only to Scott to expand the party’s appeal to minorities.
“It’s not just him or those who are in leadership roles,” he said. “We continuously and will continue to do even more to take our message to people of color.”
“The main thing to me is that we do have a strong bench of folks of color that are willing to run for public office, public service,” McCall said. “I think we’ll continue to see that, and hopefully they will be successful.”
Some said the party’s message must change before it will make any meaningful inroads into the African-American vote.
College of Charleston history professor Bernard E. Powers said he is not surprised that Scott likely will be the only black Republican in the House, because there have been so few in recent decades.
“This is, to me, reflective of the party’s constituency, racially,” he said, adding that that was the Republican Party’s strategy since even before President Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy. In the late 1960s, Nixon capitalized on Southern white voters’ displeasure with Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s championing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Powers said Republicans don’t connect with minority voters on issues like supporting affirmative action, expanding Pell grants and increasing access to the voting booth.
Powers said he believes most black voters gave Vice President Joe Biden a pass for his campaign trail gaffe when he spoke to a racially mixed audience in Virginia and said of the Republican Party, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”
“The reality is black folks weren’t disturbed by that, not really,” he said, “because black people have said that jokingly themselves.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.